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How to take care of a hamster – Species, the cage, feeding, and more

Hamsters are rodents from the Cricetidae family. They´re very attractive as pets for their docile, funny and enjoyable temperament. In this article you´ll find general information about accessories, food, health, common breeds and basic care for providing him a good quality of life.

Species of hamsters

First thing you need to do before bringing home a hamster is thinking what breed you want to have. The Syrian or “golden” hamster, for example, is the biggest one and often chosen as a pet for his docility and sociability. The smallest breeds on the other hand are the “dwarf hamsters”; the most popular among these are:

– Russian winter hamster: loving, outgoing, funny and makes little bites. His life expectancy is between 2 and 3 years.

Russian winter hamsterRussian winter hamster

Image / “cdrussorusso”. 

– Campbell´s Russian hamster: usually aggressive and may bite; he´s suspicious and doesn´t like to be touched. He´ll only approach his owner when he´s earned his trust. He can live between 2 and 2 ½ years.

Campbell´s Russian hamsterCampbell´s Russian hamster 

Image / Dan Derrett. 

– Roborovski hamster: avoids human contact, is fearful and not sociable. His life expectancy is up to 2 years.

Roborovski hamsterRoborovski hamster

Image / Jannes Pockele.

The cage

The cage should be a place where the hamster feels at ease and quiet. The following general features are the most important ones to consider:

  • Should be a large cage (70 X 40 cms.) so it´s easy to clean and he can move freely. The best ones are those that have grilles on the sides and on top. Here in the image below we give an example of a large cage, although we wouldn´t recommend this one specifically due to the tube (something we talk about later in the article).

how to take care of a hamster - large cageImage / Steve Bowbrick.

  •  Should be located in a quiet and ventilated place. Also, considering the hamster is a nocturnal animal, the location should be dimly lit, not exposed to direct sunlight and with no noises so he can sleep during the day.
  • A small cage (25 X 30 cms.) will make him feel aggressive and irritable.

small hamster´s cageHamster on small cage

Image / “Mathieu19”.

Elements inside the cage

– A little house made of nontoxic material: so he can have a shelter and feel safe.

– The cage´s base: you should cover it abundantly with substrate so that it absorbs the urine and prevents odors. There´s a wide variety of substrates such as wood chips, sawdust, hay, compressed wood, compressed straw, granulated corn, sand clay and rice husk. Many owners use sawdust or wood chips such as cedar and pine, but are unaware that these woods contain phenols which are toxic for the hamster, producing skin allergies and damages in his respiratory and renal systems. Phenols are resins found naturally in plants, so it doesn´t matter if the label says they´re 100 % natural as they´ll still be toxic for the hamster.



Natural, granulated corn substrates (without aromas) and compressed papers or straws are the best for not posing any risks to his health. Hay is also used as a supplementary material because although it doesn´t absorb odors, it does offer a pleasant smell, besides favoring the hamster´s digestion.

– The bed: never use wool blankets for this because he can bite and swallow pieces of them, putting his life in danger.

hamster on bed made of hayHamster´s bed

Image / Lyn Lomasi.

– Feeder: it shouldn´t be too big and it´s recommend to lean it firmly against the cage´s walls to prevent him from tipping it over.

– Bottle-type drinker: this type of drinker is very hygienic and prevents the hamster from spilling water into the cage.

how to take care of a hamster - bottle-type drinkerImage / Keren Tan. 

– The wheel: hamsters have the need to stay active, hence the importance of having an exercise wheel. The best wheels are the vertical ones with open sideways. When your hamster runs he must have the spine in an upright position so that he doesn´t get any health problems.

hamster running with upright spineHamster running on the wheel with an upright spine

Image / “Doenertier82″ 

One thing to note is that some owners get excited about cages with original designs such as Habitral Ovo, but its lack of ventilation and risk of falls and fractures when running through the tubes makes it dangerous for the hamster.

Habitrail Ovo cageCage with original and sophisticated design

Image / Aimee Rivers.

Lastly, remember to clean the cage at least once a week.

Hamster´s character

He´s a nervous animal, very sensitive to sounds and strong voices. Solitary, territorial and aggressive when with other hamsters, and that´s why you should never have 2 of them in the same cage as they may hurt each other to death. They only get together in mating season.


Most of the prepared food sold in the market has colorings and chemical additives banned on humans for being carcinogenic and causing diseases. Their diet shouldn´t lack in animal protein, which is very important for their health and preventing hair loss; as a supplement also give him fruits and vegetables from organic origin: broccoli, basil, carrot, watercress, cauliflower, green peppers and fruits like plum, strawberry, melon, blueberry, raspberry, watermelon, hay and peppermint.

how to take care of a hamster - feedingImage / Carolyn Coles.

Frequent diseases

There are many causes that can lead to disease: a small and stuffy cage, a poor diet, stress and intake of toxic products. The most common diseases that can affect him are:

– Cancer: just like people, hamsters can get it too. It´s important to watch his diet and offer him a stress-free environment.

– Wet tail: a fatal disease related to stress, poor diet and poor conditions of the cage.

– Diabetes: may be hereditary or due to a nutritional deficiency.

– Mites and fleas.

You must choose a veterinarian who´s a specialist in exotic animals with expertise on hamsters to treat any illness he may get.